Tech men whip Ashland
HOUGHTON – The tape from the first half of Michigan Tech’s 81-59 win over Ashland Saturday may be responsible for several sleepless nights among Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference coaches in the near future.
The Tech men excelled in every phase of offensive basketball, pouring in 46 points over the opening 20 minutes on just 35 possessions (1.31 PPP). With the Eagles determined to take away senior forward Ali Haidar (23.6 points per game) early with constant double teams, Husky guards Alex Culy, Austin Armga and Ben Stelzer each hit a three in the opening seven minutes to give Tech an early 15-11 lead. Haidar assisted on two of them.
Then, with the shots falling from deep, Haidar was able to score nine points over the final 11 minutes as room opened up underneath the hoop. Just for good measure, Armga took advantage of several driving opportunities and matched Haidar with 13 points (on just seven shots) for the half.
All told, Tech entered intermission with a 46-29 lead as the offense clicked on a level Ashland simply couldn’t cope with.
“That is what we practice with our offense,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said. “We want to swing it (around the perimeter), get the defense moving and then we want to go attack. We were moving it quickly today. On some of those swings, the defense just couldn’t catch up.”
The Huskies did not halt in the second half either, with Armga finishing with a career-high 26 points – including several crowd-pleasing spin moves – and Haidar right behind with 24.
Tech shot 57 percent for the game, hit 9-of-19 threes and turned the ball over just seven times against 17 assists.
“I know in the second half when I had that baseline jumper and it hit the rim and went like 8 feet in the air before going in – you know something is going on,” Armga said. “It feels good so just roll with it at that point.”
“You cannot say enough good things,” Luke said of Armga. “He is developing into one of he better players in the league. He is a handful right now. He can make the three, he makes every free throw he shoots and he has a mid-range game that allows us so much more flexibility in our offense.”
While the GLIAC opponents would appear on separate planes – the Huskies are now 10-2 overall and 7-1 in conference, with Ashland 4-7 and 2-6, respectively – the win was somewhat redemptive as Tech fell 73-59 last season at Ashland.
In particular, the battle between all-GLIAC forward Evan Yates and GLIAC Player of the Year Haidar demonstrated the Huskies’ desire for retribution.
Where Haidar finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, Yates headed back to Ohio with just five points (2-of-10 shooting) and six rebounds in the last regular season matchup between the two.
“I had kept it in the back of my head until now,” Haidar said. “It’s not a battle between me and him, but between Tech and Ashland. But I did win the battle and we won the war, so that’s good.”
“I think he did because Yates got the best of him last year,” Luke added. “We made it clear to him that it was Tech vs. Ashland, but I did like the fact that he wanted to get him back internally.”
Defensively, Tech frustrated Yates with a combination of Haidar, Phil Romback and Luke Heller. The 245-pound forward met a wall each time he tried to establish himself on the block and caught the ball further from the rim than he preferred.
“He is a good of player as there is in the league and we needed to make it a team stop,” Luke said. “This was a team defensive game on Yates, he was our first priority. We were trying to get him off the block and then help with the proper people I thought we did an exceptional job on Yates.”